Friday, 4 July 2008
The Kinks "Face To Face" (1966) ('Core' Album #8, Revised Edition 2014)
Party Line/Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home?/Dandy/Too Much On My Mind/Session Man/Rainy Day In June/A House In The Country//Holiday In Waikiki/Most Exclusive Residence For Sale/Fancy/Little Miss Queen Of Darkness/You’re Lookin’ Fine/Sunny Afternoon/I’ll Remember
There are butterflies galore on the record cover of Face To Face, colourful creations of all shapes and sizes flying out of the head of some poor unfortunate cartoon soul who looks like a cross between the hip and the hip replacement generations. The poor chap below looks caught in half-bemusement, half-shock at the fact the top of his head has just come off to reveal so many flying, fluttering ideas he can't contain. When taken together with some of the album subjects (the elves and gnomes on 'Rainy Day In June', the Eastern influence on 'Fancy', the bright and colourful 'Dandy') you'd be half-forgiven for assuming this was Ray Davies' 'drug' album - to be filed away neatly alongside The Beatles' 'Revolver', The Stones' 'Aftermath' and The Who's 'A Quick One' from the same year. In actual fact this is a typical Kinks album about bewaring of appearances: the whimsical brightly-coloured cover art couldn’t be less like the strangely anti-psychedelic tales of down-to-earth problems inside. Every character and every situation on this album (and even by Ray's standards it's full of characters, with a more varied cast than the complete set of Roger Hargreaves' 'Mr Men' books) is different to what they seem on the outside: the fake Hawaiian holiday with grass skirts made of pvc, the toff who falls on hard times and has to sell what used to be an 'exclusive' residence to pay some bills, the quiet hidden soul of 'Fancy', the outgoing 'Dandy', even the tortured songwriter on 'Too Much On My Mind' have a layer and depth that previous Ray Davies songs don't have. 'Face To Face' is a real breakthrough album for The Kinks, the moment when all those ideas that have been forming and coalescing suddenly join as one, the caterpillar leaving its chrysalis with a style completely unique and unlike any other around. While not every song is a classic, enough are to make 'Face To Face' one of the most satisfying Kinks albums of the 1960s with a versatility and depth rare even to other albums from my personal favourite year in music terms: 1966.
Many songwriters grew that year thanks to a combination of a desire to try out new sounds and a feeling that the audience who had been teenagers through the early Merseybeat years were now sophisticated young adults. Drugs opened the doors to the minds in many a writer and many a listener, with music suddenly moving so fast that a week made a difference to what was in the charts, let alone a month. However, typically for the Kinks, the thing that shaped this album most wasn't an acid flashback or a hip party but a nervous breakdown, with that monochrome bemused looking character possibly Ray Davies himself (well actually he's the invention of Pye's art company - but he must represent someone surely: how can you listen to this album and not get the feeling that we're looking inside someone's head?) Ray Davies finding himself so unable to cope with the pressures of the music business that he was nearly sectioned for running into his music publisher's office with an axe and had to be quietly calmed down and sent home to rest and recuperate. 'Face To Face' is effectively the soundtrack to that recuperation: Ray discovering life outside the treadmill for the first time since his college days and coming up with an album's worth of material that can be neatly filed between imagination and family domestic life; ie what Ray experienced and what he creates. In a few year's he'll be able to blend the two together (in fact most of the 1980s Kinks albums are about that very theme), but for now this album is about problems and escapism, the two dancing throughout the album like twirling strands of DNA, cause and effect, ripple and result, the loss of 'Rosie' resulting in 'Too Much On My Mind', the loss a 'Most Exclusive Residence' subjecting a millionaire owing back taxes to relish the only thing he has left: a 'Sunny Afternoon'. 'Dandy' meanwhile might just be a front for the similarly titled 'Fancy': a shy introvert too scared to face the world wrapped up in a golden cloak of frippery and bright colours. Not every song matches up (opener 'Party Line' sounds like it belongs to a different album entirely) but enough do to give 'Face To Face' a unity that makes this more than just a collection of songs, as per the first three Kinks albums.
That worry about life’s problems slowly creeping in on you and gradually overwhelming you gives this album its monochrome edge, its focus on the hardness of life and its pictures of down-and-outs in all areas of society. They say that the toughest things you can do for the sake of your health is move house, change job, become a parent, get ill and get divorced. While the last one doesn't fit the rest do: 1966 was a busy year, with The Kinks in jeopardy after inter-band squabbles and a five-year-ban that saw The Kinks unable to play in America (something they still resent to this day). 'House In The Country' and 'Most Exclusive Residence' are about the property ladder (Ray and wife Rasa were in the process of looking for a house for their growing family and houses will dominate Ray's writing for some time, especially whenever a move is in the air). 'Rosie Won't You Please Come Home' is a kitchen sink drama about not Ray breaking up the 'family home' but his elder sister - in fact Rose didn't just leave Muswell Hill but England too for a new life with husband Arthur in America (this will have a huge effect on Ray, who was particularly close to his nephew; this separation and the reasons for it will be the entire theme of the Kinks album 'Arthur' three records from this). No wonder Ray sings of having 'Too Much On My Mind', a moving song about being overwhelmed by problems, difficulties and insecurities: being forced to churn out songs no one else believed in for a band who were increasingly fractious and self-involved and which tore him away from a new family he never properly got to see - Ray Davies' life in 1966 would have given anybody a breakdown and makes for an album that's unusually harsh for the blissful mid-1960s.
This album isn't just about the self, though. Kinks Album number four, Face To Face is every bit as harsh about the world outside: a land where everything is fake and everyone is on the make. Many of the characters on 'Face To Face' are either lost in a world of layers they don't understand or the ones pulling the wool over others' lives. Both 'Dandy' and 'House In The Country' are a slap to the chops of smug early yuppies. The first is a flowery character with several girlfriends on the go and who cares only for the clothes he wears (it's effectively a later re-write of 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion', released as a single six months earlier), the first real flowerings of Ray's acerbic wit). The second is the first Ray Davies song about another obsession - millionaires - but unlike 'Sunny Afternoon' he gets to keep his riches, a house in the country and a big sports car that actually keep him isolated from the society he yearns to control. We never meet the salesman who offered the narrator of 'Holiday In Waikiki' a prize but no doubt he'd have been character assassinated too: this is a fake land where everything is 'commercialised' and the narrator, a poor English boy, is out of his depth and a long way from home in more ways than just geographically. Even 'Session Man' - reportedly about band friend and pianist Nicky Hopkins, who one of our recent articles notched up the tenth biggest pile of AAA albums after usual suspects like Paul McCartney, Neil Young and the Davies brothers - is scathing, an attack on the kind of musicians who have no heart for what they play and can cop any style at the drop of a hat (a rare case of Ray being ungenerous, you suspect, with a touch of jealousy). There's nothing like this on any previous Kinks albums, where character assessment tends to be defined through a girlfriend's ability to sob or sleep, a major shift in Ray's songwriting style and the moment where he finds his 'voice'. This sort of ‘catchy melancholy’ is more than just sarcasm though: if Ray had no feelings and sympathises with his subject matters they'd end every song in misery - instead even 'Dandy' ends up disappearing from the record to the raucous tagline of 'you're alright!'
The butterflies are significant for other reasons. More than any other record this is where The Kinks grow from being a Merseybeat-ish caterpillar as good as but not necessarily better than all the other bands around into one of the most distinctive, original sounding bands there ever was, with a wit and Englishness no other band can touch in all sorts of delightful shades of colour. For a start this is the first Kinks album to feature a lifetime Ray Davies obsession with the role of reality and fantasy in ordinary life: plagued by a brain that won't shut off (as heard poignantly on 'Too Much On My Mind') and finally having seen that there is more to life than being run ragged on a concert tour, the recent husband and father is having a bit of culture shock, unsure what's real and fiction: are the elves and gnomes he thinks he sees in his garden one gloomy day any less real than the demons that plague him and make him depressed? Are his worries over what his band, his family, his brother, his fans think about him any less real than the thunder storms he imagines skidding across the skies? is his artistic freedom any better than the life of a session man, 'playing at a different studio every day'? Is his life really pre-destined, or is it really as random as the teenage past-time of randomly calling telephone numbers in the hope of getting a date? No one else was singing about this sort of subject matter (with the possible exception of Brian Wilson) - few ever will again. The last time we left the band - casting around for a new sound on 'Kink Kontroversy' now that heavy rock was drying up and the folk route hadn't really worked out - they'd sounded unsure of themselves, as likely to mess up a new style as integrate it into their sound. The biggest single achievement of 'Face To Face' is that, despite all the troubles creating it and the many styles it covers, each one sounds 'right': sung with gusto and confidence and somehow better related to the 'original' Kinks sound than cul-de-sacs like the Motown 'World Keeps Going Round' or Herman's Hermits-poppy 'When I See That Girl Of Mine' (great as both those songs are).
'Face To Face' could have been named for several reasons. As we've seen, many of the characters are - if not quite two-faced - then hiding something. The cover shows us that a colourful imaginative landscape full of butterflies lives inside us all - even the kind of drab suited businessman depicted on the cover. But I have a guess, too, that Ray is alluding to the influential 1950s series 'Face To Face' that interviewed all sorts of luminaries from Gilbert Harding to Tony Hancock (and taken off the air in 1962 four years before this album - trust the ever nostalgic Ray to still remember it, though!) John Freeman's interviewing style was outrageous for the times, probing beyond the usual questions about family and projects to look at purpose and motivation, breaking through the usually gentlemanly mode of the interviewee. Ray Davies, having recently crashed and burned thanks to the 'fame game', is newly eager to work out what makes life tick and many things (difficulties over publishing rights, the fact the band might not last much longer - bassist Pete Quaife even left briefly, with his future replacement John Dalton playing on album track 'Little Miss Queen Of Darkness' before a similarly burnt-out Quaife re-joined, staying till 1968) seem to have caused him to write songs with less of an ear to top 40 radio (even 'Sunny Afternoon' isn't an obvious hit - what other song about millionaires do you know that made the top ten?!) and more of an ear to what he wanted to write. In many ways the album 'Face To face' seems like a similar session on the psychiatrist's couch, Ray working through his problems and coming to terms with his recent collapse, but equally aware that he inhabits a world with characters similarly on the edge, each about to fall in their own ways. The programme 'Face To Face' prided itself on getting everyone onto the show: actors, comedians, writers, thinkers, priest, politicians and sportsmen. Similarly The Kinks' version of 'Face To Face' suggests that millionaires are as unhappy as the rest of us, that even music can be just another 9-5 'job' if you treat it that way and that even being a rock star can't ease the problems of being a human being. Ray will go on to delve further in his quests for knowledge and understanding about the human nature, resulting in such delightful projects as 'A Soap Opera' (where a star becomes 'normal' and then discovers he's suffering from a psychiatric episode and was 'ordinary' all along) and 'The Village Green Preservation Society' (which is all about nostalgia and memories, with the old refusing to make way for the charmless new). Other albums may be better or more complete and yet I still love 'Face To Face' more than any Kinks record outside 'Arthur': the moment when Ray seems most in touch with what it means to be 'human' - and for all of us, not just himself.
'Face To Face' could, however, have been even better. Ray Davies had grown increasingly interested in the idea of sound effects and non-music appearing on pop/rock albums. As far as I know no one had ever attempted to link a whole album through sound effects before and Ray spent a lot of time and effort getting the running order just so. Pye, though, weren't interested and nixed the idea, saying that it would cause the vinyl records to come with one 'permanent' band each side and nowhere to place the needle for each song. Ray, annoyed, took most of them out (although he left on the storm-clouds on 'Rainy Day In June', the beach waves on 'A Holiday In Waikiki' and the ringing phone on 'Party Line'). Had Pye been as forgiving as EMI were to The Beatles then 'Face To Face' would have got the plaudits given to later albums that tried just that (basically everything released in the six months after The Beatles' 'Sgt Peppers' in June 1967). I've often wondered what the other sound effects might have been and whether they might have made 'Face To Face' seem like even more of a unified album. What would Ray have used to signify the heartbreaking parting of 'Rosie Won't You Please Come Home?' What musical equivalent might there have been of his nervous breakdown on 'Too Much On My Mind'? What sound could possibly reflect the true nature of 'Fancy'? Sadly the original master-tapes of the 'sound effect' version seem to have been destroyed but surely even Pye (a label smaller, poorer and less keen on paperwork than bigwigs like EMI, Capitol and Decca) must have kept some paperwork? If I know Ray Davies like I think I do then surely he has at least part of his original vision still seared into his memory. If only the band would try to re-create it for the next re-issue of 'Face To Face' - it would be a lot more interesting than yet another multi-disc set with yet another remix and a handful more BBC sessions!
We seem to have spent a long time discussing 'Ray Davies' on this album and not a lot discussing 'The Kinks'. 'Face To face' is very much the elder brother's album: he sings all songs but two and takes writing credits for everything on this album (although Dave claims he was due to receive a credit for at least 'Party Line' and his brother had it removed at the last minute). The rest of the band still back their leader up superbly, though. Unusually for this period Dave doesn't get a 'song' - he'll bounce back with three on next album 'Something Else' - but he wonderfully channels his brother’s lyrical frustrations through his jagged guitar work as well as providing vocals on the album’s two most obvious throwbacks to the group’s old sound (presumably picked for him by Ray, as if using Dave as the band's last link to old fans). Pete Quaife overcomes his frustrations with the band to contribute his usual interesting bass-fills and under-rated harmony vocals. Meanwhile Mick Avory’s drumming just gets better and better during this period, with Mick and Ray sharing a special bond from here until the drummer's last album with The Kinks ('Word Of Mouth', as far away as 1985). Always at his best when Ray is at his most emotional, Avory manages to find a sensitive thunder-rattle on songs like 'A Rainy Day In June' and 'Too Much On My Mind' that would have left lesser drummers scratching their heads. Had Ray's breakdown happened to, say, Pete Townshend in The Who (which in many ways it did, but not until the mid-1970s) or Keith Richards (ditto, albeit physical and from drug intake more than anything else) you can imagine the rest of the band ploughing on regardless (exactly what happened to Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett a couple of years later). At times The Kinks fought harder and dirtier than the Who and Stones ever did, but they're right behind Ray here, backing up statements that lesser musicians would have laughed or sneered at ('Too Much On My Mind' is a song that would have been laughed at by some in 1966 before nervous breakdowns and psychotic episodes became gradually better understood). Cynics would say that Ray's songs is where the band's bread was buttered and it was in their best interests to do so - but those who understand the band's brotherhood and unusual hot and cold blowing support networks would expect nothing else, as these ties get tested again and again over the years (and not always because of Ray).
'Face To Face' remains a popular album with Kinks fans, who love the growing psychedelia of the album and the changes for the better in Ray's writing. However the album didn't sell all that well, lagging behind the first three record's chart positions in most countries despite the presence of UK #1 hit 'Sunny Afternoon' (Ray still proudly boasts that he's the only Englishman ever to have scored a #1 the week his home-country won the world cup!) Perhaps as a result (or maybe it's the very 1960s cover) a lot of general, casual music or Kinks fans who only want the 'best' work tend to pass it by, with 'Face To Face' generally lagging behind 'Something Else' and 'Village Green' in 'top album' polls (the few times it features at all). 'Face To Face' deserves better; it's at least as good as those two better-known works and those two records would not have been shaped the way they are had Face To Face not broken so much ground first. For me it might even be better: 'Face To Face' has the variety of theme of both albums but also a wider variety of sound and there's nothing on either album to match the honesty of 'Too Much On My Mind', the heartbreak of 'Rosie Won't You Please Come Home' or the fragile poignancy of 'Fancy'. Of course these other albums offer more - the angry charge of 'David Watts', the sophistication of 'Waterloo Sunset' and the charm of practically anything from 'Village Green'. But if I had to pick my favourite Kinks albums or recommend them all face-to-face then this and 'Arthur' would be my first stop, records where Ray's passion, humanity and wisdom never shone brighter. Ray considers this record one of his best too – if you believe X-Ray that is, which as its a half-fictional ‘unauthorised autobiography’ probably isn’t the best source to go on! – and Ray heaps criticisms on every other record it seems, especially the first two. It remains a towering achievement, even within a catalogue of other towering achievements: the moment the caterpillar became a butterfly and The Kinks made the transition from sombre black-and-white to startling colour.
Play the first track  Party Line, however, and you might be wondering what on earth all the fuss is about. One of those early Kinks-sounding tracks that lie scattered around their ‘middle period’, it sounds very dated for 1966 standards and might well be another example of Ray’s nostalgia, returning to his old ‘breakthrough’ sound of You Really Got Me whenever he’s running short on new ideas so that he can re-charge his batteries a bit. A nonsense song about the rather backwards state of phone technology in 1966 (most phone lines in Britain back then were 'shared' by a 'party' of people and often got confused; Ray most likely started this song as a play on the words 'party' as that's exactly what the narrator seems to want), its pretty much the last Ray Davies song given to brother Dave to sing and he makes a good job of it – although its obvious there wasn’t an awful lot of time spent on it! Even this early on in the album, though, you can hear a rather barbed dig at politicians going on behind this song’s youthful exuberance – the narrator ‘won’t be voting in the next election’ if they don’t sort his phone out for him here and now!
 Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home is much better, a kitchen-sink drama similar to She’s Leaving Home in the way it sympathises not just with a teenage runaway but with the devastated parents left behind. Like the same-period B-side Big Black Smoke, Ray is (in a very anti-60s way) heavily against this rebellion which he sees as breaking up the perfect family home, but on this track he seems more sad than angry. The song takes on a whole new level of meaning when you realise why it was written (probably). Ray came from a large family and had four sisters much much older than him and Dave and this song may have been inspired by his sister Rose’s move to Australia with Ray’s nephew and boyhood companion Terry (a rupture that understandably had a huge impact on Ray – Arthur, a later Kinks album coming up on this list, is full of songs loosely based on the theme of this parting). Seeing as Terry was Ray’s closest childhood companion (far more than his brother ever was) maybe it’s a song for him instead? Then again, perhaps this song is about Ray’s other sister Rene, who died of a heart condition when Ray was 14 (working from the dates given in the X-Ray book Ray would in 1966 have been about the same age Rene was when she died and many of his songs of this period share an I-have-to-get-this-done-now-before-something-happens-to-me quality). Incidentally, or perhaps not, Rene was the sister who most encouraged Ray’s early writing career and in fact bought him his first musical instrument very shortly before shed died. Could it be that this song about breaking up a happy home was written out of despondency and guilt about what happened to his beloved sister or even about the slave-driving recording-touring processes that took both Davies brothers so far away from home? Whatever inspired it, Rosie is a classy song, especially Ray’s truly heartbreaking vocal which perfectly catches the grief of someone down on their hands and knees begging for a loved one to return. Stark and cold, Rosie is an all-but-forgotten watershed moment both in the Kinks’ career and in 60s music in general, helping to usher in a new era of songs relating to their singer’s lives and filled with genuine emotional content.
 Dandy quickly stops the album from getting too deep, a bouncy music-hall knees up that’s just as scathing in its delivery as Dedicated Follower Of Fashion and Well Respected Man but with twice the melody and charm. Ray also sings his vocal rather better on this third attempt on the same theme (in my opinion his vocal on both of these songs goes dangerously OTT in places), despite the fact he is obviously suffering from a heavy cold. The pay-off line at the end, where the song seems to be slowing to a halt and a scathing finish only to kick off again with the happier line ‘Dandy you’re alright!’, also makes it possibly the best of Ray’s three songs on this theme, angry and direct without losing its author’s compassionate warmth.
 Too Much On My Mind is more honesty at work, with a tired Ray drawling his words in a head-hanging kind of way over a gentle acoustic backing and a frenetic harpsichord accompaniment from session musician Nicky Hopkins. Ray talks for the first time about being unsure about what he is doing, explaining to the listener that the weight of expectations from band-mates, managers and fans to come up with the goods time after time is weighing heavily on his mind and that he can’t sleep at night because of the pressure of all this. Ray’s breakdown in late 1965 was extremely well hushed up from the press (Ray walked several miles on foot to his manager’s office while dressed in his pyjamas and proceeded to yell at him and hit him before breaking down in tears) and the whole affair could have got very out-of-hand if it had been handled like most events of the day. Instead, Ray’s managers, agents and friends sensibly gave the writer just the tiniest bit of space to rest and go back to writing, allowing Ray to come back invigorated about the job he had to do. Given this song’s vintage, its easy to imagine that this desperate, tormented song was one of the first Ray wrote during that time off. An impressive song is backed up by a sumptuous arrangement that grows with every verse and another sterling vocal from Ray who sounds far more at home on these more ‘real’ sort of songs than on jokes like Dandy. For the first of many occasions throughout his career, this is Ray telling us that he’s washed up and can’t write any more, with the lyrics matched by such a gorgeous tune and so many wonderful ideas that its obvious to us that its creator’s talents have never been brighter, its just that he chooses not to see them that way.
 Session Man is another of Ray’s 1965 hangovers that seem surprisingly nasty and uncharitable in the way they pick on their subject matter. Even more alarmingly, this song is a dig at Kinks side-man Nicky Hopkins who had selflessly been dressing Kinks albums in such wonderfully fitting piano-playing you’d think Ray would be dedicating a song to what a great guy he is. Nicky obviously didn’t take the song to heart, though, as he crops up on several later Kinks albums and even plays along chirpily with this song, sounding as if he doesn’t know the track is getting a laugh at his expense. The lyrics of this song are pure Ray Davies, from their awful rhymes (‘He’s a session man, chord progression, top musician’) to the way the narrator mercilessly lampoons the character’s biggest achievements as if they are of the smallest consequence when, actually, they’re pretty impressive for a musician of the time. Thank goodness there’s another impressively concocted tune going on underneath it all, or this song would be un-listenable.
 Rainy Day In June is much more like it, another terribly atmospheric track dominated by Ray’s edgy, eerie vocal mixed as high as it will go. Considering that this song features a load of pixies and fairies playing about in an English garden (possibly written about Ray’s own garden and intended to be a children’s song for Ray’s young daughters who were born not long before this album came out), its a terribly scary track, full of ominous warnings (‘And everybody felt the rain…’) and thunderclaps that sound like Armageddon itself is coming. The theme of the song also seems to be ‘rain must fall into all our lives’ (even when you’re a pixie or a goblin), getting the track about as far away from a happy children’s story-tale as its possible to get. The other Kinks do this song proud, especially Dave’s slightly shimmering tentative guitar licks, and the result is one of the band’s best recordings on the album.
 A House In The Country is another of Ray’s mean-spirited jibes, but this time it may well have been about himself as he finally gave in and became the archetypal rock star ‘buying a house in the country’. The big name, of course, soon regrets buying his big house and the big car to drive him there because he finds out he no longer has any friends to show his new purchases off to – they all still live in the town. The narrator’s search for a social status ‘shangri-la’ of his own that he can never have without losing his social status friends is classic Ray Davies and its matched to one of the Kink’s classic basic riffs, with one of the most ‘electric’ arrangements on the record. Much funnier than Kinks fanatics Blur’s tuneless dirge of the same name 30 years later, this song allows the Kinks to briefly discover their rocking past and is loose and ragged, sounding as if it was recorded live in the studio (a rarity for the band at this time).
 A Holiday In Waikiki – which originally started the album’s second side – sounds like it’s more or less A House In The Country part two, possessing a similar ragged riff and a frenetic lyric that’s rattled out so fast its hard to catch the lyrics at all. This time the narrator is a poor working class lad who wins a supposedly luxury holiday, but soon wishes he was back at home when he discovers half the things there don’t work and half the things (like the palm trees and grass skirts) are fake. I wonder if this is the disillusioned Ray of 1966 talking to us about fame here, telling us that his sudden rise in fame, fortunes and circumstances weren’t necessarily for the better and that he’d rather have stayed at home, without the pressure, in a dead-end job. Ray sounds like he’s having a whale of a time sending himself up on the vocal, though, giving us mixed messages about his true feelings.
 Most Exclusive Residence For Sale is one of a handful of Kinks songs where they seem to be borrowing heavily from the Stones by featuring a murky production, choppy rhythm guitar chords (as opposed to lead guitar chords) driving the song on and an untypical, rather sinister air, as if something’s about to leap out of the record and grab you by the throat. The song itself is very Kinks-like, though, being a close cousin of Sunny Afternoon in the way a rich businessman falls on hard times and has to sell his beloved house. He spent his money on parties for his friends and yet – when he calls on them for money – they don’t want to know. Running off the rails and spending all the money he doesn’t have on drink and girls, the narrator gets into trouble and is ordered by a judge to forfeit his house, thus ending up with nowhere to live. Another surprisingly dark and vicious track, nothing steps in to save the poor lead character as you’d expect and instead the Kinks fade out on a mournful sounding la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la chorus instead. An odd and not entirely memorable track in the Kinks’ Kanon.
 Fancy is an impressive creation, though, the logical extension of Ray’s early dip into Eastern music on the gloriously droning single See My Friends in 1965. Fragile, to the point where it sounds as if its about to break, it finds the narrator finally plucking up the courage to admit his true feelings to someone and then admitting to us that he is afraid of what the reaction will be because he is so used to being hurt (Or ‘Always. Blue.’ as he actually tells us, spinning the words out over so many notes that they take up half the length of the verse each time Ray sings them). The word ‘fancy’, usually used as some light-hearted flirting wordplay, takes on a whole new meaning here as Ray makes it clear that he’s not choosing who he wants to fall in love with, but its happening to him despite his wishes as he struggles to make the full commitment his heart is crying out for him to make. The backing is so empty and sparse it’s hardly there at all, but Ray turns in yet another of his career best vocals on this track and so hypnotic is his voice – especially when it’s mimicking the wandering movement of the sitar - that you can’t take your ears off it throughout the song. Another Klassik Kinks Komposition that rates among its author’s best works.
 Little Miss Queen Of Darkness is another example of why Ray was right to carry on down his creative journey despite his doubts and insecurities and why he deserved success because he worked so hard for it (note from original review: The Beatles, The Hollies and the Stones, after all, had each other to bounce ideas off but the only other songwriter in the group was brother Dave and Ray made it clear early on that he’d had rather not have been spending time with his brother on-stage, never mind spending his free-time writing and probably arguing with him (which is a shame given that the one song they did write together – Death Of A Clown – is so popular and well-loved). Ray was also the group’s lead vocalist in this period, after splitting the chores with brother Dave on the first three Kinks albums, and was the band’s producer too, a list of jobs comparable in pop music only with the similarly tortured Brian Wilson). Darkness is a terrifically complex song that follows a structure completely unlike any other in pop. The verses repeat themselves throughout the whole of the song, simply ending with the same one-line chorus, and the only variation comes in the solo, not from Dave Davies on guitar, but Mick Avory on the drums (and then its more of a gentle tap than a rollicking drum-rolling centrepiece). The first song to feature future Kinks bass-player John Dalton on a recording (Pete Quaife had injured his wrist in a car accident and very nearly bowed out of the Kinks at this point, at the last-minute deciding to stay with the band for a further two years), the band were obviously experimenting with an all-new formula here and it’s a shame that they – or any other band for that matter – never followed this song’s intriguing lead ever again.
 You’re Looking Fine is another Ray Davies song with a vocal cameo from Dave, which is odd considering that this composition sounds like it would suit the lower-pitched Ray perfectly and Dave was writing his own fantastic songs in this period, without needing any help from his brother. A slow, lazy blues with a hypnotic guitar riff, this song is another departure for the Kinks, but ultimately sounds more filler than fantastic despite the fine band performance (especially Nicky Hopkins back on piano). The song sounds much better live, where its slow-burning groove seems to go on for hours on the Kinks’ first live album Kelvin Hall (1968).
 Sunny Afternoon is the most well known and well loved track here, which on the one hand is no surprise given the song’s gorgeous singalong chorus and lazy summers day feel (1966 is still one of the hottest British summers on record, although Ray wouldn’t have known that when he wrote the song back in April or May). Yet on the other-hand, this tale of a bored and apathetic aristrocrat who loses everything but doesn’t really seem to care while the sun is shining is hardly the stuff of which number ones are made. As complex as Ray’s songs are, you usually know whether you should be laughing at or sympathising with Ray’s characters and on Sunny Afternoon that line is blurred because you can’t really sympathise with someone who isn’t that bothered in the first place. The Kinks pull off a masterstroke in the recording of this song, with the sparseness of the recording reflecting both the character’s bleak circumstances and the warmth of a shining sun that helps the character’s troubles fade away. A gorgeous melody helps point the song firmly towards its reputation of being a ‘classic’, but there’s something uneasy about this track that makes it one of the more unsettling releases to have made it to near the top of the charts (though its still not quite as unsettling as the follow-up single Dead End Street!)
The album then rounds off with the sort of wave-goodbye nostalgia fest that Ray Davies will make his own in a year or two.  I’ll Remember features a simple bluesy pop melody, rather like the ones Ray was writing on the first two Kinks albums and it sounds rather out of place here. The lyrics are spot-on for it though: Ray tells a departing lover of all the great memories he’ll treasure, singing happily rather than being upset that she is leaving in the first place. The song is then dressed up in a cosier pared-down version of the old Kinks sound, with rattling guitars and twinkling piano fills played at a tempo that sounds like its running at half-speed, suggesting that Ray isn’t fondly waving goodbye to a partner at all but to the Kinks’ early period sound. For the moment Ray doesn’t get any further with this song than that, simply repeating this idea a few times by saying it in different ways, but this is the prototype for some of the Kinks’ best songs in the years to come and the fact that Ray is choosing to look back to the past rather than forward to the brave new world of every other 60s band of the time makes this song pretty much unique for 1966.
Not everything is a gem, then, but if The Kinks were playing safe on a handful of tracks that’s nothing compared to the sort of lacklustre pop many of their contemporaries were still trotting out in this period. For honesty and integrity, this is a watershed album in 60s music, the precursor of much of the confessional singer-songwriter genre material on this list and as an early model for what the Kinks are going to do in the rest of the 60s and beyond it’s a tremendously important and overlooked creation.